Who Knew? Two New at NATPE

Syndicators rarely use the annual National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) convention to launch a new show anymore, but last week, two new entries popped up.

Independent syndicator Program Partners surprised syndication watchers by announcing a new talk show starring American sweetheart Marie Osmond for fall 2009. And Disney-ABC Domestic Television will revive the once lucrative weekly sci-fi genre with Wizard's First Rule, adapted from Terry Goodkind's best-selling series of 11 fantasy novels.

“I've always wanted to do a show for women that would offer them a safe place to have some fun and get vital information,” said Osmond at a NATPE press conference in Los Vegas. “Marie will truly reflect my personality—funny, sometimes serious and never predictable.”

Osmond said she went with Program Partners because, “I like their philosophy. We are going to be real partners and do things on the show about which I feel strongly.”

Sources say Program Partners beat out larger studios because they offered her more ownership in the program, which, if it succeeds, could earn millions for her. William Morris' John Ferriter, who has represented Osmond for 17 years, brokered the deal.

She had been out of the spotlight until recently. Osmond just came off a run on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, where she was a fan favorite. She's popped up on The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN's Larry King, pushing up Nielsens those days.

Osmond starred with her brother Donny in another strip, Donny & Marie in 1998. That show ran for two seasons.

Besides recent TV gigs and a planned Donny & Marie reunion show in Las Vegas this July, she sells her own line of dolls on QVC.

The deal was too new for Program Partners to have a production team in place, or even know what city it will be shot in. But she will be moving from Utah to Los Angeles or New York..

“Marie is a true original, said Ritch Colbert of Program Partners. “And Marie, the series, will be every bit as much a winner as she is. This is the kind of project for which stations have been waiting for a very long time.”

But talk is a particularly challenged syndication genre. Syndication's last true talk hit was CBS' Dr. Phil in 2002, although since then Warner Bros.' Ellen Degeneres and CBS' Rachael Ray have both gone on to moderate success, as have Warner Bros.' Tyra and NBC Universal's Martha .

Meanwhile, Disney-ABC Domestic Television Wizard's First Rule is produced by Spiderman's Sam Raimi and reunites Tribune stations with the creative forces that brought Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to huge success a decade ago. The genre faded quickly when the field got overcrowded.

Wizard's First Rule, which will premiere next fall, will be produced by ABC Studios, with work on the 22 episodes starting this May. The venture marks the studio's first venture into broadcast syndication. Raimi and his team from Xena and Hercules—Robert Tapert, Joshua Donen and Ned Nalle—will reunite to produce the show.

Tribune outlets, representing 35% of the country and seven top ten markets, will air it. Wizard's also will have a concurrent run on Tribune's cable superstation WGN, which will help finance the deal. International sales will be key.

“We are eager to reunite with the creative forces that brought us so much success with Hercules and Xena,” said Marc Schacher, Tribune's senior vice president of programming and development.

Janice Marinelli, president of Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution, said: “I think the syndication marketplace has taken a step away from quality product in the last couple of years. This is a wonderful property that could turn into a wonderful franchise.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.